The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--And How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World MP3 CD – Audiobook, MP3 Audio, Unabridged
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Steven Johnson, bestselling author of Everything Bad is Good for You, is fantastically gifted, and anyone who doubts it need only consider this: in The Ghost Map, Johnson manages to make filth, overpopulation, feces and death the cornerstones of one of the year's snappiest page-turners. On the simplest level, The Ghost Map is the true-life tale of the cholera scourge that slammed London in 1854 and the two passionate and whip-smart men who ferreted out its cause. But it's also a biography, a detective saga, a horror story, a history lesson, a sociological rumination on cities, an unlikely but gripping celebration of the modern sewer system and a vivid portrait of historic London life.
"London's underground market of scavenging had its own system of rank and privilege, and near the top were the night-soil men," Johnson observes. "Like the beloved chimney sweeps of Mary Poppins, the night-soil men worked as independent contractors at the very edge of the legitimate economy, though their labor was significantly more revolting than the foraging of the mud-larks and toshers.
"City landlords hired the men to remove the "night soil" from the overflowing cesspools of their buildings. The collecting of human excrement was a venerable occupation; in medieval times they were called rakers. [But] the work conditions could be deadly: in 1326, an ill-fated laborer by the name of Richard the Raker fell into a cesspool and literally drowned in human shit."Nice. Clearly much more than just a dry recitation of data--though the depth of Johnson's research is obvious--The Ghost Map is a hair-raiser that cooks from page one. A big reason is Johnson's ability to personify and animate what he terms "the invisible kingdom of microscopic bacteria," transforming cholera into a nefarious three-dimensional villain with a role to play and zest for the part.
His work as biographer also impresses. Johnson gives us two protagonists all but forgotten by history who really should be feted: Dr. John Snow, who 150 years ago in an era of superstition and tenaciously held scientific notions, managed to work out the simple equation that excrement + drinking water = death. We also meet Reverend Henry Whitehead who similarly helped to crack the cholera riddle by flat-footing it through Soho, interviewing residents and survivors and eventually coming to believe that Snow was onto something with his water-borne disease theory. (The prevailing wisdom of the day held that disease was airborne and linked to smell).
It is no exaggeration to say that Snow's efforts changed the world. Ditto engineer Joseph Bazalgette, whose sprawling, visionary English sewer system Johnson likens in stature and scope to the Eiffel Tower and Brooklyn Bridge. The Ghost Map is a great, great book, stuffed with cool factoids and told by a writer so conversant in his topic that it plays like an exquisite yarn shared over friendly beers. --Kim Hughes --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. On August 28, 1854, working-class Londoner Sarah Lewis tossed a bucket of soiled water into the cesspool of her squalid apartment building and triggered the deadliest outbreak of cholera in the city's history. In this tightly written page-turner, Johnson (Everything Bad Is Good for You) uses his considerable skill to craft a story of suffering, perseverance and redemption that echoes to the present day. Describing a city and culture experiencing explosive growth, with its attendant promise and difficulty, Johnson builds the story around physician John Snow. In the face of a horrifying epidemic, Snow (pioneering developer of surgical anesthesia) posited the then radical theory that cholera was spread through contaminated water rather than through miasma, or smells in the air. Against considerable resistance from the medical and bureaucratic establishment, Snow persisted and, with hard work and groundbreaking research, helped to bring about a fundamental change in our understanding of disease and its spread. Johnson weaves in overlapping ideas about the growth of civilization, the organization of cities, and evolution to thrilling effect. From Snow's discovery of patient zero to Johnson's compelling argument for and celebration of cities, this makes for an illuminating and satisfying read. B&w illus. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
One of Johnson's greatest strengths is that he never lets the reader forget that this story took place in 1854 in one of the first metropolis' of the time - London. At several points throughout the book, it could have been easy to dismiss some of the various individuals in the narrative as crazy, stubborn, or simply stupid. Every time I found myself slipping towards those thoughts, however, Johnson would remind me of the historical context in which all of this was occurring. He does a wonderful job of contextualizing and grounding the historical account in the world of 1854 London.
My only critique of the book is that the epilogue moved slightly off topic and came across as much more hastily written and less well-researched than the rest of the book. Johnson seems to use the epilogue as a means to advance a few of his own personal ideas on urbanization, information-sharing, and terrorism that the historical narrative simply does not support very well.Read more ›
Steven Johnson tells a great story and, like all other great stories, this one also has a cast of memorable characters (notably Knox, Henry Whitehead, William Farr, Benjamin Hall, and Edwin Chadwick), a sequence of highly dramatic plot developments (as well as subtle ones, equally significant), conflicts that create escalating tension and increased reader interest, and eventually a climax at which time this reader (at least) felt exhausted, unkempt, and somewhat toxic.
Of special interest to me is how skillfully portrays the setting less as a metropolitan area, within which more than two million people and countless livestock are crammed, than as "a natural organic process," a living organism, an alien creature, indeed a monster. As I read the material that focuses on the human devastation, I was reminded of the whatever-it-is in the film, Predator.
Victims of the plague proceeded from a "healthy, functioning human being to a shrunken, blue-skinned cadaver in a matter of days" after Vibrio cholerae is ingested, finds its way to the small intestine, and "launches a two-pronged attack." Residents in the Broad Street area tended to be either dead or not dead yet. What was it like?Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
We need to be reminded that heroes walk among us in plain sight, yet unseen. The man who removed the Broad Street pump handle worked for years against social custom to establish a... Read morePublished 23 months ago by J Barry Gander
I loved this book which was as much a story about London during an epidemic. It has much detail - from the theory of the discovery of the first person who got the plague - how it... Read morePublished on Aug. 9 2014 by Jen Holden
A vivid description of London cholera and the state of poverty in Britain in nineteenth century. I am writing a book on the effect of British rule on healthcare in India and the... Read morePublished on May 18 2014 by Daya Varma
I found this book to be most interesting. I learned a great deal about the development of safe cities. Read morePublished on April 18 2014 by A1teacher
The time of Victoria and Dickens, London's sky's are grey, the Thames a cesspool and in a tiny street in SOHO a baby dies. Read morePublished on Jan. 4 2014 by Nan
This is a fascinating book on an 1854 cholera outbreak in London's Soho district and the investigation into that outbreak by a medical doctor (who was also a pioneering anesthetist... Read morePublished on Oct. 11 2012 by Mark Anderson
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